On the surface, you’d figure HBO hit the jackpot with the Antonio Brown drama.
The headlines with Brown’s feet and multiple helmet grievances have been among the top few stories in the NFL this month. Logically, it would seem “Hard Knocks” with the Oakland Raiders would thrive off that.
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Instead, we haven’t gotten the show we’re used to. “Hard Knocks” has to deliver on the Brown storylines, and it has done the best it can. But that part feels unsatisfying, and it’s overshadowing what the show has done best since debuting in 2001.
We all wanted to see the Raiders on “Hard Knocks.” It has been a fine season. But, ironically, it probably would have been better without the Brown sideshow.
Antonio Brown a big focus again
In episode one, the story of Brown’s frostbitten feet broke too late for HBO to do anything with it. In the second episode they got great footage of Brown taking off his socks and showing his burned feet, but then didn’t get much footage on the much-talked about helmet saga. The third episode had to go back to the helmet issue because of how big of a story it became, but there weren’t any truly mind-blowing moments.
“So we’re just going to talk about how hard I work instead of all that nonsense people want to make me out to be,” Brown said on camera, in what seemed like it could be a dramatic moment. “Just a young, black skinny kid working really hard, and it’s starting to pay off.”
The problem is, the “nonsense” is the focus of the NFL. There haven’t been many incredible reveals on the show when it comes to Brown, and the show has had to focus on him as much as it can. In short, this isn’t what has made “Hard Knocks” popular.
There were some interesting moments regarding Brown. Jon Gruden said “I give the guy credit for standing up what he believes in. Everybody else does in this country.” Gruden said nothing has surprised him or the team about Brown’s various stories. Brown’s agent Drew Rosenhaus explained to Gruden that they “came up with is a little bit of a loophole” to let Brown wear the helmet he prefers as long as it was less than 10 years old, though we knew long before Tuesday the NFL nixed that plan.
Brown telling Gruden “never again” for cryotherapy was funny, and Gruden and Brown sharing mutual respect during a heart-to-heart conversation was poignant. But that conversation came before news of the second grievance broke, and “Hard Knocks” didn’t have much footage on that. General manager Mike Mayock’s fiery “all in or all out” press conference was good, but we saw that days ago.
“This lid ugly as f—- yo!” Brown told his teammates before last week’s preseason game, and that might have been the most compelling Brown moment in Tuesday’s show.
The moments with Brown were fine. The random clips of him making Gatorade for his teammates and telling Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray everyone will blitz him felt more like “Hard Knocks” than anything with the various controversies. The producers have done the best they can. But it doesn’t feel like a traditional “Hard Knocks” season, and the tried-and-true formula is what has made the show so popular.
‘Hard Knocks’ had a few great moments
The best parts of the show had nothing to do with Brown, though they all seemed like interludes to see if there would be some big moment with the star receiver.
Comedian Frank Caliendo did his spot-on Gruden impression in front of the team, and Gruden quipped “Why don’t you do something funny here tonight Frank?” Tight end Darren Waller talking about being sober for two years after trying to sabotage his NFL career with hardcore drug use on the 2016 Ravens was great television. Gruden calling a play for Waller against the Cardinals, then being informed Waller wasn’t in the game and the head coach replying “I know that” was gold. Safety Johnathan Abram arguing with “Madden” representatives about his and his teammates’ ratings was great.
As was Gruden’s scouting report to the team about Murray, who the Raiders would end up shutting down in last week’s preseason game.
“When I studied Murray, you can say whatever you want, but I ain’t never seen a quarterback who runs 4.3 that’s a dual threat like this guy,” Gruden said. “We make a mistake on him, he can hurt us real bad. We gotta contain him, we gotta get after his a—. Have respect for this cat, now.”
That’s “Hard Knocks” at its best. Not trying to follow a news story, after we already know the new headlines. There have been some but not enough recurring characters down the roster or oddball moments away from the field. You’d think following Brown would have been a godsend for the show. Instead, it’s getting in the way.
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